* Her first biography by Bradford, in 1868, was written to raise money to help support Tubman and her family, and thus presented her as a powerful Joan of Arc-type character, according to Humez, in her new study, Harriet Tubman: The Life and Life Stories.

A revised biography by Bradford, published in 1886, expunged all references to Tubman's racial politics and portrayed Tubman as a saintly, self-sacrificing person, making the story more palatable to racist audiences of the post-Reconstruction period.

Conrad's biography, in the 1940s, played more on Tubman's Civil War experiences (she was the first American woman to lead an armed raid into enemy territory), downplayed her spiritual leanings and used Tubman to create a heroine for the working-class struggles of his time. (Tubman's biographers, concluded Humez, a professor of women's studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, have always found that she "could be used in a number of different ways, depending on what their political objectives were and what the racial climate was like at the time.")

* Finally, the complete story is not told -- even yet. Documents related to Tubman's life are still turning up. At a recent book signing, Larson met a man who had just come across an uncataloged collection of Civil War-era letters about Tubman and photographs of Tubman with Union troops. Last year, a man in Dorchester County sorting through a dumpster discovered what may be the only existing copy of a local advertisement calling for Tubman's capture when she first escaped in October 1849.

After all, there is still no Harriet Tubman collection, archive or repository where serious historians can turn to fathom the mystery of one of the most famous women in American history.

Local and national historians say they expect research about Harriet Tubman to heat up quickly now. The main reason is not simply the sudden wealth of scholarship. It has to do with tourism.

The National Park Service is now making a study of 13 Underground Railroad sites, including two in Dorchester County, to consider creating a National Heritage Corridor dedicated to Tubman. Grants related to the project, to archaeological digs, historical renovations and to further study are being made available. And the potential for tourism in Eastern Shore counties like Dorchester and Caroline has people turned on, as never before, to Tubman research.

"In the African-American community here, she has always been such an important person," said Dorchester's local expert, Creighton. "But when the National Park Service zeroed in, the tourism potential for this became important in the state of Maryland."

So important, in fact, that competition is now under way in Caroline County to prove that the majority of Tubman's adult work in the Underground Railroad was not done in Dorchester at all, but in neighboring Caroline.

According to J.O.K. Walsh, president of the Caroline County Historical Society, Tubman's best-known rescues took place in Poplar Neck, southwest of Preston. Her father's home, in fact, was in Caroline County, and the historical society recently won a $10,000 grant to hire a historian to find the site and document the evidence.

"Everybody thought Harriet's actions were centered in Dorchester," Walsh said. "And we found out that a major portion of her activities took place here. The truth of the matter is that county lines didn't mean that much to Harriet and her operations, but these days, it's more important to us."

There is also something else new and unusual stirring from the research, an attitude that even Larson might find refreshing.

Jay Meredith, a descendant of a Dorchester County slaveholding family, has renovated an old country store on his family property where Tubman, as an adolescent, is thought to have sustained a blow to the head that possibly caused her to have religious visions and to suffer debilitating seizures for most of her adult life. Unlike his father and grandfather, Meredith has opened the store for tourists and uses it to prompt public conversations about the role of slavery in the county's history. He wants it all out in the open.

"The previous generations here had recollections of this history or were told stories firsthand, and a lot of people were just ashamed of it or wished that if they didn't talk about it, it would just go away," Meredith said.

"But with my generation, seeing people like Kate Larson and other people doing this deep research, we're beginning to open the doors on this stuff and look at the facts and ask questions. I think that's good. They're bringing it out in a way that, finally, we can really discuss it."